Banning oil tankers on British Columbia's stormy north coast would be "strange" public policy that would deprive local citizens of benefits from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, one of the project's key backers argues.
Liberal and New Democrat opposition MPs are pressing the federal government to create a tanker moratorium in the sensitive Pacific waters that would be used to transport crude to Asia is the $5.5-billion Gateway project is built by Enbridge Inc.
But Pat Daniel, the company's chief executive officer, said such an idea wouldn't make any sense for a trade-oriented country such as Canada.
"Obviously, if there was a ban on tanker traffic, it could put the project at risk," he said during a conference call in which Enbridge discussed its 2011 forecasts and announced a 15-per-cent increase to its dividend.
"But I would find that rather strange and isolated policy. Why not Vancouver? Why not Montreal? Why not anywhere else? To target the north coast of B.C., I think, is economically disadvantaging people that look forward to the benefits associated with the Gateway pipeline project.
"So I rather doubt that from a policy point of view that that would make a lot of sense for Canada or for B.C."
Gateway is the most significant project undertaken by Enbridge, which has grown steadily in recent years as it built out its pipeline network. The company said Wednesday it expects 2011 earnings of $2.75 to $2.95 per share, and anticipates earnings growth to outstrip cash flow growth until 2014. The earnings forecast fell slightly short of analysts' expectations.
The company has already spent $250-million to prepare a Gateway regulatory filing that includes more than 17,500 pages of documentation. The project is currently being considered by a joint review panel. It has garnered support from many along its 1,172-kilometre length, including some aboriginal groups. First nations along the coast have, however, almost uniformly opposed the project, and opposition is spreading across the province.
On Thursday, more than 50 first-nation groups plan to come together in Vancouver in a show of solidarity against Gateway. They are to gather a half-block from the Enbridge office in Vancouver, said Andrew Frank, a spokesman for the gathering.
"This will set [Gateway] back into Mackenzie pipeline territory," he said, referring to the stalled proposal to build a northern pipeline. "It's not going anywhere."
Many disagree with Mr. Daniel's assessments, saying a tanker ban makes sense in an area where support for Gateway is, at best, uneven.
"I see no problem with a locally appropriate measure to protect an existing coastal economy. And I doubt that local communities or first nations would see a problem with that, either," said Eric Swanson, a campaigner with the Dogwood Initiative, a B.C.-based land reform organization.
"We have thousands of kilometres of coastline. It would make absolutely no sense to assume that a blanket policy covering all of them would somehow meet the needs locally."